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We must re-think how we deliver education to young people

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When a student joins a Career College it is the first step of their career.

Improving the quality of technical and vocational education in this country is something I have been working hard at for many years.

Snobbery killed off our technical schools in the 1950s and vocational pathways were very much seen as a route for the ‘less academically able’. This has led to a severe skills shortage in the UK – a problem which is only going to get worse over the next ten years.

We need to act in order to protect our economy and this is why I launched the concept of Career Colleges in October 2013. Next month, five new Career Colleges will be opening, joining the two that opened last year in Bromley and Liverpool. A further five have been approved to open in 2106, with many more in the pipeline – working towards our target of having 25 in operation within the next four years.

Our Career Colleges specialise in a variety of industries ranging from Hospitality and Catering to Digital Technology, Healthcare and Construction. We focus on these priority sectors, which are facing serious skills shortages over the next few years and offer real career opportunities.

Crucially, the specialist vocational training is underpinned with solid academic teaching in core subjects like maths and English, ensuring students receive a well-rounded education.

We have huge support from industry – with employers getting involved in both the design and the delivery of the curriculum. Our colleges are supported by a range of major employers, who are offering students incredible opportunities and real exposure to a particular industry. For example, the catering and hospitality students at Bromley’s Career College have been offered work shadowing at the Shard and Dorchester and masterclasses with Michel Roux Jnr as well as being part of the catering team at a major Wembley event.

Other major employers supporting our other Career Colleges include Accenture, Ford Aerospace, KPMG, BT, NHS Trusts, Archant and Oracle.

As a result, Career College students are being equipped with relevant, real world skills, which is of benefit to both them and to UK industry as a whole.

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This all sounds like common sense and indeed it is – what with employers often bemoaning the fact that they have trouble recruiting adequately skilled staff.

Young people too are looking for a more relevant education, as is clear from our research, which has been published today. Out of the 1000 11-18 year olds asked, over three quarters agreed that schools are too focused on exam results alone. More than 80% think it’s important for the education system to be more career focused.

The trend away from vocational education wasn’t helped by the last Labour Government imposing a target, suggesting that 50% of young people should go to University. As admirable as the intentions behind this were, it led to Apprenticeships and other ‘on the job’ learning opportunities falling by the wayside. It is only now, with rising university fees and increasing debt, that people are starting to look once again at high quality vocational alternatives.

I speak to the owners of many businesses and see at first-hand just how challenging it can be to recruit the right people – despite having many opportunities available. Companies often have little choice but to hire talent from abroad.

This country needs to re-think how we deliver education to young people- looking more closely at the desired outcome and skills required to be successful in the real world.

Yes, we need to ensure school leavers reach a good standard in the core academic subjects. This is the basis of all education and must not be ignored. But we also need to start helping our youngsters prepare for their future careers. They must be made aware of the many opportunities out there and the key skills required to be successful.

When a student joins a Career College it is the first step of their career.

Lord Baker is the founder and a trustee of the Career Colleges Trust

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